Health Care

The Age of Digital Health Care

by Amanda Bedgood

EMR aims to enable physicians to communicate with each other efficiently to create better care.

The paper trail is fast becoming a dinosaur in health care as electronic medical records replace traditional charts. The results, according to local hospitals, are far reaching and benefit patients in more than just convenience.

“Only one person can do something at a time with a [traditional] chart,” says John Marker, Women’s & Children’s and Regional Medical Center of Acadiana’s Chief Nursing Officer. “Now multiple people can be working and document a patient — the timeliness, especially in emergency — the safety implications of an electronic record are extensive.”

In a world that connects everything in the mysterious “cloud,” to the layperson an electronic medical record or EMR may not sound like a great feat. The idea of taking a chart from doctor to doctor and clinic to clinic may sound archaic. But marry the cost of digitizing and maintaining records with the complexities of protecting said records plus the sheer volume of them (Women’s alone has 100,000 physician orders ever month), and many hospitals are now implementing full digital systems years after some patients may assume they’re already online.

“We go digital for continuity of care,” says Daryl Cetnar, director of community relations at Lafayette General Health, where implementation began years ago. “There’s no greater example of the ‘before’ than the former UMC, which had a complete paper charting system. They had employees that would ‘run’ the patient’s chart around the hospital everywhere the patient went. For example, runners would go to the family medicine clinic, get a chart and run it to the emergency room, then the ER would chart and run it back to medical records. This could happen over 100 times in one day. Now, UHC has a full electronic medical record that gives care providers instant access to the complete medical history of a patient. It also connects the patient together throughout our health system. There is no reason to look for paper charts and bring them to another hospital,” he continues. “This increases staff efficiency and gives the physician a more complete look at the patient regardless of which Lafayette General Health facility they received care.”

With the old paper records, tests were sometimes repeated unnecessarily, and there was the possibility for vital information about patients to remain unknown by providers as that patient moved through the system.

“By instituting a full electronic medical record everything is at the tip of the doctor’s fingers — every X-ray and reading and medication,” says Cetnar.

The system at Women’s also includes a medication safety component that checks new orders against a patient history for interaction. While none of the three major systems is linked — LGMC, Lourdes and Women’s — all are linked within their own systems and each have patient portal options.

“It’s the tower of Babel,” says Elisabeth Arnold, assistant vice president of marketing and corporate communication at Our Lady of Lourdes, of the connection from one hospital system to another.

A patient portal is the interpreter.

Patients are able to log in and view test results, look at their history and check dates they had a procedure done with a password and username.

“Just at Lafayette General, 46,000 people have signed up to see their own patient records,” says Michael Dozier, LGMC’s chief information officer and vice president of IT.

The efforts to go digital at LGMC garnered the hospital system the Most Wired award in 2014 in the Hospitals & Health Networks Magazine annual awards. Physicians can pull records from 2000 for patients within their system. And LGMC was the first to link two hospitals when it joined with Opelousas General.

Cetnar says while the link between health care providers is of great benefit, there’s also the vital component of patient portals that give each individual a new kind of access in their health care.

“It can empower you to take your health care in your own hands,” he says. “When you go to a doctor not affiliated with your network you can look it up on the phone.”

Bill Ferry, Women’s director of advanced clinicals, says a doctor treating you needs but one thing to pull your records within their system — Internet access. (The caveat being the doctor must be treating that patient. The burden to stay in line with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and protect patient privacy is another component of EMR.)

Per Ferry’s experience, orders that once took hours to get from doctor to patient now take minutes, thanks to EMR implementation.

“We are now capturing detailed data, and you can read every one of them,” Ferry says. “There’s no such things as bad hand writing … it goes to the pharmacy immediately, the lab immediately. It’s really improved what people disliked about health care — how long it takes to get anything done. We’ve seen this turnaround.”